In many ways, it is nothing short of miraculous that Sudbury Valley has reached the 50th year of its operation. For all the talk of reform in the world of education, those parents who feel comfortable allowing their small and large children autonomy are always an infinitesimally tiny minority. They are hard for any Sudbury school to find, and they must work hard to keep their aims clear when they conflict with society’s norms for how children should be treated. The fact that their children become strong and amazing people does help, but here we are: still on that cutting edge, swordfish wondering why we can’t seem to turn into . . . . cuddly cod yet!
One of my personal favorite things, now that we have had so many years of graduates, is that when we have a visit from an “elderly” alum – say 45, 50 – who went to school here long ago in the far away, they say three things: “wow, it looks so good here, now!” (it does; the campus and building improvements have been immense); “everything is exactly the same” (yes, the way people treat each other, and feel about being here, which defines the atmosphere of the school, is precisely the same); and often, “oh, I remembered it being so much bigger!”
So, this is what I want to say about us on our fiftieth anniversary: an idea that stays, unwaveringly, on the cutting edge for 50 years is an impressive thing. That is because the idea was right! Respect and all those nice “r” words work. When we look at our former students we see people who are successful at many things, not the least of which is understanding themselves and how they want to lead their lives. The alumni who come back are physically beautiful too. Sometimes – as happened last year with one of the students who was about 9 or 10 when the school started, graduated at 18, and lives in a very distant part of the country – the ex-student walks in looking radiant. What they got here “took”. It lasted. They got that feeling of being able to control as much of life as is possible to control, to make changes, to move forward.
Fifty more years? I hope they will not all be on the cutting edge! In my mind in another 50 years we will be the norm. We will be supported some way that does not double-tax parents, but hopefully is not part of the horrid heavy expensive bureaucracy that is the present public school system.
That is what I thought in 1968 too, and it didn’t happen yet, but one thing I am sure of: our staff, and staff in similar schools, will keep up the push as long as necessary. Being in the avant garde is, at the very least, something that makes your back and shoulders straight. It keeps your vision clear. Parents who have bitten the bullet, students and former students, and staff in Sudbury schools everywhere: we can all be justifiably proud of keeping a very beautiful way of treating children right on track!
This bouquet was a 50th Anniversary present for our Opening Day,
from the Jersey Shore Free School.